On the road in…India!

This one surprised me actually. I thought with the number of people in India who are vegetarian, that getting vegan food wouldn’t be especially difficult. Lesson learned?

What I seemed to neglect to remember is that while most Indian food is vegetarian, they put yogurt in most of their sauces.

I travelled to Mumbai for a work conference, and also took another week off and flew over to Delhi to venture out to see the Taj Mahal and some of the forts. I flew from Australia to India on a combination of Qantas and Jet Airways flights via Singapore. The on-board catering was fine, I got my vegan meals. Some of the things on the tray I couldn’t eat as they contained gluten, but on the whole, I was able to eat most of what I got during the flights. And since I was transiting in Singapore, unquestionably the best airport on the planet, I was able to get something to eat in the airline lounges or in the food halls during my layovers.

In Mumbai I stayed in the university dorms where the conference was being held, so ate in the college dining room for breakfast, although either ate at the conference for lunch and dinner (in theory), or went out with colleagues. While nearly all the food on offer was vegetarian, none of it was vegan. And I couldn’t even eat the bread!

Then in Delhi and it’s surrounding areas I was staying in upmarket hotels. Unfortunately that basically meant “western” style Indian food on the menu. Lots of creamy, dairy laden sauces that weren’t spicy. Boring for a start – I love spicy food! But the dairy content meant that much of it was inedible. I suppose the difference here was that there was actually fruit at breakfast time, lunch was generally a write-off due to lack of suitable options, and then back at the hotel for dinner I could normally convince the chef to stir fry some vegetables for me in some garlic and oil.

Vegetarian? Yes. Vegan? Not so much… 

I did usually end up finding something to eat. Though admittedly much of the time all I did was get a bowl of steamed rice with nothing in it.

In a country that struggles to feed its people as it is due to poverty, I wonder if most people even comprehend western dietary issues? I think I was just surprised, because I had figured “hey, they’re vegetarians, they’ll totally get what vegan means, I’ll be fine!”. There’s a big difference between not eating meat, and not being able to eat dairy and egg either. So many of the dishes contained yogurt, cheese or egg. Which I knew in the back of my mind, because it’s not like I never went to Indian restaurants at home. I’m not sure why I actually thought it would be any different in India. Maybe in other parts of the country (down south maybe?) the availability of vegan food is more prevalent? I know that the cuisine differs significantly across the different regions of India, and perhaps where I was it just wasn’t common to find vegan food?

The lesson learned here is that making assumptions about the food isn’t always wise. I usually always do a lot of research about new travel destinations before I get on the plane. In this case I made an assumption and didn’t do enough research. I wouldn’t say that I blame myself since nothing bad actually happened, and I had to go to India either way. It’s just that it would have been better if I’d been forewarned that vegan food wasn’t as easy to come by as I expected.


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